There is something to be said about a band that purposefully misspells their name after the world’s most famous marsupial and then titles their first album Electric Hawaii. Kody Nielson (Mint Chicks) and his new band Opossom tinker with the idea of oddities and pleasantries existing together. Theirs is a sound much like the Today! era Beach Boys’ dissonance of upbeat surf music and inwardly melancholic ballads. Nielson writes and records most of the songs himself and draws heavily from a kaleidoscopic spice rack of 60s psych pop.
Ascending drum beats, organ and heavy synth propel Electric Hawaii through a breezy half hour of 10 songs. It does seem strange that an album grounded so firmly in electronica and psychedelia wouldn’t have a single song over four minutes long. “Girl” is a head bopper with the drum/tambourine percussion of a Peter Bjorn & John hybrid car commercial. Bic Runga lends her beautiful backing vocals to “Fly”, another track beamed in from ’67 with some progressive jazz drumming. “Blue Meanies” is clearly the single and Nielson sounds a lot like Real Estate’s Martin Courtney as the driving percussion cuts through his hazy vocals.
The album’s title track is one-and-a-half minutes of stuttered keyboard with no vocals that serves essentially as an interlude to the last two songs. “Outer Space” is a synth-muddled space hymnal with barely discernible lyrics. Once again, there is still some fine production here but the track feels more like filler than anything else. “Inhaler Song” is the finale and builds quite nicely with the help of more subdued vocals and a piano. After the two minute mark the song inexplicably breaks into an ear crushing static fuzz before settling back into Nielson’s washed out voice.
To give credit, Opossom have crafted a very ambitious record layered with a precision not often seen on a band’s debut. However, by the sixth track “Why Why”, listeners may indeed be questioning just what Electric Hawaii’s intentions are. The problem is not the production or arrangement or instrumentation, but more a matter of substance over style. Opossom lack both the drug-addled angst of early Dandy Warhols or Brian Jonestown Massacre and the truly brain-altering psych of a seven minute Tame Impala song.
While Electric Hawaii shouldn’t be casually written off as mediocre neo-psychedelia, Opossom need to free themselves from the anchor of commercial pop in order to create truly introspective music. This is not to say every song by every band needs to have some sort of deep existential meaning, but when the line is blurred it comes off stilted. Nielson is fully capable of crafting highly listenable tunes for that daily commute or a day on the beach. Whether or not he wants to really get inside people’s heads for longer than that is a question that will have to be left for his next record.
Words: Brian Noonan